When you go out for a walk to the park of an evening, you may see a group of Muslims sitting on their mats reading the kalmas from the Quran. In another corner another group, the Parsis, might be reading their holy book as the sun goes down. In a third corner, children play the game of batball called cricket. The sahibs, mounted on horseback, spin like tops as they throw a ball about. Hundreds of madams and their children watch the fun from carriages parked on the side. A huge crowd of passersby has gathered on the street outside which police sepoys are busy pushing back. Other sahibs and madams are engaged in shooting arrows at targets. The Volunteer Corps is on parade. The sound of their gunshots scares the horses that draw the carriages on the street causing them to buck. Drivers and passersby alike go into a panic trying to control them. A crowd of people who have finished work for the day are walking along talking about their joys and sorrows. Many women have finished their shift in the mills and, as they hurry home, they wonder how best to divide the money they have earned on their needs. Others sing songs as they walk. Military men, not to be late, rush down the street bearing their rifles on their shoulders.
Pleasure-seekers drive their carriages at a gallop, keen to hear the band at the bandstand. Others are headed in the same direction on foot. Young Parsi and English girls walk around the bandstand hand-in-hand, chatting merrily. Dozens of carriages are parked around. The occupants, sitting inside listen to the sweet strains of the band. The periphery of the maidan is lined densely with trees, making it a beautiful sight to behold. This place is near the new Secretariat. The bandstand, surrounded by an open maidan, is itself is just large enough to hold the musicians. There is a very convenient place there, specially made for them to store their instruments. Benches surround the bandstand for people to sit on and listen. The musicians are employed by the Governor. They are therefore called the Governor’s Band. They play for the public three days in the week of which Friday is the most popular. A large crowd of people gathers on that day looking for entertainment. This is the place to which young couples naturally turn when they come out for a walk. The band ends its performance with God Save the Queen. This place is altogether the best spot for people, tired by life’s cares, to come to and enjoy a few moments of carefree relaxation.
You walk along the seashore watching all this fun till you come to Backbay. Here you will see thousands of men, women and children out to take the air. Parsi women come dressed in multi-coloured silks; white memsahibs walk hand-in-hand with sahibs. Turbans and costumes of assorted design are on view, worn by men and women of diverse castes and creeds. With so many people milling around, you might think you are on a fairground. The Parsis have finished reading their scriptures and are climbing down from the seawall to touch the sacred sea. The Hindus say their prayers to the sungod and seek the blessings of the sea. The Gujarati priests scramble to offer them the benefit of their prayers and claim alms from them. A number of them carry flowers and sandalwood paste in baskets and pursue passersby with the call, “chandla karo maharaj” or let me put sandalwood on your forehead sir, only to be shoed away. If the tide is in, the crowds enjoy the sight of large waves crashing against the seawall spraying them with fine droplets of water. When the tide is out, people sit on the wall or on the rocks below breathing in the fresh air. The Sahibs gallop up and down on their horses or walk around with their girlfriends. Another lot of people relax on the carpet-like lawns beside the sea, chatting and laughing. Others sit on the benches or under the trees. The gardeners have made the garden so pretty that it is a pleasure to see and relax in or even have a little picnic in. People may play games here or simply idle or, if they are students, read their books.
Vendors mingle with the crowds calling out their snacks with strange sounding chants. They sell hot roasted gram and cold ice-creams, chunks of skinned sugarcane, fritters and sodas. On summer evenings, people stay out till the midnight hour and Parsi and European couples walk hand-in-hand on moonlit nights. As night falls, the light in the Colaba lighthouse begins to revolve. Its reflections on the sea create an illusion of thousands of lights lit in its very depths. The wonders of the place increase when the bow-shaped road from Walkeshwar hill to Colaba is illuminated by a long line of lamps. The swinging lanterns of passing trains and their thunder, the boats that bob up and down off the Chowpatty beach, all add to the fascinating sights of this place, and you begin to wonder what land you are in. It is not surprising that you should feel this way. For this part of the city is indeed and without doubt a place that offers to the harried human soul a few moments of respite and deep contentment.